Polar Bears vs. Coral Reefs
To the surprise of the US offshore drilling industry, the Obama administration announced that it will potentially open areas in the mid- and south Atlantic, eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of Alaska to offshore drilling. While it doesn’t guarantee drilling in these previously banned areas – and even though actual drilling is, at best, four to five years away – this new energy policy still indicates a shift in the paradigm.
At the very least, it is a signal that this administration is recognizing the necessity of hydrocarbons in US energy supply, something that the oil and gas industry has been trying for years to get the government and public to understand. As “clean” as renewable and alternative energies are, it’s fact that oil and natural gas will be the predominant energy source for the foreseeable future, not just for the US but for the world.
For the contract drilling industry, this plan is welcome news, especially in light of the current oversupply in the rig market. Hopefully, if seismics indicate significant deposits on the Atlantic Seaboard, new drilling opportunities will boost the sagging Gulf of Mexico market.
MANY AREAS STILL NO-GO
It’s not surprising that, immediately after Obama’s announcement, environmentalists and their political allies pounced on the news and began bashing offshore drilling. One senator was quoted condemning the plan as a “kill, baby, kill” approach to energy policy. And a press release by the Center for Biological Diversity was already mourning the death of polar bears: “Short of sending Sarah Palin back to Alaska to personally club polar bears to death, the Obama administration could not have come up with a more efficient extinction plan for the polar bear.”
Contrary to what these comments suggest, however, the new offshore drilling plan is not an unqualified win for the E&P industry. There was no mention of the Pacific, including offshore California, which is believed to hold significant reserves. Proposed leasing in Alaska’s Bristol Bay was canceled in the name of environmental preservation, as were pending lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. And whether the Atlantic Seaboard will ultimately be included in the MMS lease sales still hangs on results of environmental impact studies, which will require at least two years to complete. After that, seismic studies will have to be done, another two years at minimum.
What does that mean? Well, for one, polar bears can rest easy for now.
FLORIDA UNDER THREAT
The new offshore plan also keeps the OCS area within 125 miles of the Florida coast off-limits. Yet, the US government doesn’t seem to realize that preparations are under way for drilling just off the Florida coast. Cuba! As that country begins to seriously drill in its coastal waters, IADC is concerned for the safety and environmental protection of the US, Mexico, other Caribbean nations and Cuba itself.
IADC has submitted a request to the US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to take a drilling industry delegation to Cuba. This group of offshore technical specialists would conduct an overview of the status of deepwater drilling in Cuban waters and meet with Cuban officials, who would focus on personnel training, environmental mitigation and protection, and accident and explosion prevention. IADC’s first request to travel was denied. A second application, supported by US Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, was recently submitted.
An environmental disaster borne of insufficient safety and oil spill mitigation offshore Cuba might not threaten polar bears, but it would certainly have disastrous consequences for Florida’s waters, reefs and coastal communities.